Your Biggest Weakness
By Coach Jason Yule
Today we are going to talk about your biggest weakness, and unfortunately you probably don’t even know (or think) it is a weakness of yours. But trust me, it is. And like I already mentioned, you most likely don’t even realize it. Your biggest weakness isn’t your Olympic Weightlifting technique or even your inability to string butterfly pull-ups. It’s not your handstand push-ups or your muscle-ups. It’s not technique based at all, actually. But it is a constant among all of these movements, and so many more. So what is your biggest weakness, this mysterious secret?
Your biggest weakness is your grip strength. I look at grip strength like the seemingly minor character that disappears during a movie but then always seems to come back in a major way at the end. Think Jon Snow – bastard child who, not allowed to go to Kings Landing, is forced to go to be a member of the Knights Watch. He was a seemingly insignificant castaway for a majority of the series, but now looks to be one of the most significant characters left. Your grip strength, in this case, is like Jon Snow. And it’s going to come back to make its presence felt, so you better be ready for it.
You see, we typically only think about our grip strength after a grip intensive workout. Think Fran – sure, your lungs are burning, but how about your forearms? Feeling pretty gnarly huh? Why is that? I mean, it’s only 45 pull-ups. Sure its fast but 45 pull-ups doesn’t seem like it’s enough to make your forearms explode with lactic acid, right?
Here’s the thing – your grip strength is so much more than just hanging on from a pull-up bar. Your grip strength, and more specifically your forearm muscles, are literally the last thing in your body to transfer power to whatever your hands are grasping. So back to the Fran example, while the workout is only 3 to 5 minutes long, your forearms are never at rest. Whether they are holding the barbell on your shoulders, pressing the barbell overhead, or hanging on to the pull-up bar, they are active for 95% of that 3 to 5 minute workout.
I have two primary examples that really highlight the significance of the grip strength. First, clean grip deadlifts versus conventional switch grip deadlifts. Personally I have almost 100lb difference between the two. Why? The opposing rotational forces provided with the switch grip counteract each other, essentially eliminating the grip issue. My second example is the hook grip. If you’ve ever worked on “no hook” cleans or snatches, you know your ceiling is way lower without the hook. Again, that’s all due to grip strength. By turning your thumb into a strap, you can engage more forearm strength, and transfer more power to the bar.
The previous examples translate to pretty much all facets of gymnastics as well. Think about toe to bar, pull-ups, etc. Rarely, if ever, do you do so much volume that your lats just can’t keep up. They are the largest muscles on your back, and kipping makes the movement so energy efficient. So why do we burn-out on these movements? It’s your grip strength. Once your grip is gone it essentially eliminates the transfer of energy from your lats to the pull-up bar. You’re strong enough to keep going, but your forearms just won’t let you. A great example of this is GHD Sit-ups versus toe to bar. GHD’s are substantially more taxing on your core than T2B, but we burnout on T2B so much faster. Again, its not because we can’t engage our core, heck the kip almost eliminates all the work our core should be getting. Our issue once again is grip strength.
So your takeaway is pretty simple. Fix your grip, and your ceiling on all of these movements will become so much higher. Of course I’m not saying you don’t need to work on things like Oly technique and lat strength, but fixing your grip issues should be top priority.